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Halong bay

The legend of Halong has it that, "Once upon a time, soon after the Viet people established their country, invaders came. The Jade Emperor sent Mother Dragon and her Child Dragons down to earth to help the Viet people fight against their enemy. Right at the time invaders' boats were rushing to the shore, the dragons landed down on earth. The dragons immediately sent out from their mouths a lot of pearls, which then turned into thousands of stone islands emerging in the sea like great walls challenging the invaders' boats. The fast boats couldn't manage to stop and crashed into the islands and into each other and broke into pieces.

After the victory, Mother Dragon and Child Dragons didn't return Heaven but stayed on earth at the place where the battle had occurred. The location Mother Dragon landed is nowadays Halong Bay and where Child Dragons descended is now Bai Tu Long. The dragons' tails waving the water created Long Vi (present Tra Co peninsula) and formed a fine sand beach over ten kilometers long".

It abuts Cat Ba Island in the southwest. Toward the west is the shore with a 120km-long coastline. The site is 1553 sq. km with 1969 islands of various sizes, of which 989 have been named.

The islands in Halong Bay
are mainly limestone and schist islands most lying in the two main areas: the southeastern part of Bai Tu Long Bay and southwestern part of Halong Bay. These islands represent the most ancient images of a geographical site having a tectonic age of from 250 million to 280 million years. They are the result of many times of rising and lowering processes of the continent to form a karst. The process of nearly full erosion and weathering of the karst created the unique Halong Bay in the world. In a not very large area, thousands of islands with different forms look like glittering emeralds attached to the blue scarf of a virgin. The area where many stone islands concentrate has spectacular scenes and world-famous caves and is the center of Halong Bay Natural Heritage, including Halong Bay and a part of Bai Tu Long Bay.

The area is recognized as the World Natural Heritage that is the area of 434 sq. km with 775 islands. It looks like a giant triangle with Dau Go Island (in the west), Ba Ham Lake (in the south) and Cong Tay Island (in the east) as its three angle points. The nearby area is the buffer area and areas classified as national beauty spots in 1962 by the Ministry of Culture and Information.

Viewed from above, Halong Bay looks like an extremely vivid huge drawing. This is a wonderful and skilful masterpiece of the Creation and of nature that turns thousands of dumb soulless stone islands into fantastic sculptural and artistic works of various graceful shapes, both familiar and strange to human beings. Thousands of islands emerging uneven in the fanciful waves look strong and magnificent but also mild and vivid. Amidst these islands we feel as if we were astray in a petrified legendary world. There are many names given to islands according to their shapes and forms. This one looks like somebody heading toward the shore: Hon Dau Nguoi (Human Head Island); that one looks like a dragon hovering above the sea surface: Hon Rong (Dragon Island); another looks like an old man sitting fishing: Hon La Vong; some look like big sails struggling amidst the wind to set off for the sea: Hon Canh Buom (Sail Island); then two islands look like a pair of chicken lovingly playing with each other above the sea: Hon Trong Mai (Male and Female Chicken Island); and amid the vast sea stands an island like a big incense burner like a ritual offering to Heaven: Hon Lu Huong (Incense Burner Island). All are so real that people are taken aback by them. Those stone islands have experienced unpredictable changes over time and they take different shapes from different angles of view. Here, we come to realize that they are not dumb inanimate things but are vivid and soulful.

Inside the stone islands are various breath-taking caves, such as Thien Cung, Dau Go, Sung Sot, Trinh Nu, Tam Cung and others. These are really magnificent palaces of the Creation on earth. Long ago, Halong Bay has been called by the great national poet Nguyen Trai: "a wonder of the earth erected towards the high sky". Many men of letters from all over the world have been taken aback at the grandiose scenery of Halong. They seem to get puzzled and incompetent as their treasure of vocabulary is not rich enough to depict the splendor of this place.

Halong Bay is also attached to glorious pages of Vietnamese history, with famous sites such as Van Don, a bustling trade port in the 12th century, charming Bai Tho Mountain, and not very far away from here is the Bach Dang River which witnessed two famous naval battles of the Viet's ancestors against invaders. Also, Halong is one of the cradles of human kind with the glorious Halong culture in the late Neolithic age, discovered at such archeological sites as Dong Mang, Xich Tho, Soi Nhu and Thoi Gieng.

Halong is also home to great biodiversity with typical eco-systems like mangrove forest, coral and tropical forest. It is also home to thousands of plants and animals of numerous species, for example shrimp, fish and squid. Some species are particularly rare and can be found no where else.

With such special values, at the 18th Session of UNESCO's Council of World Heritage held on 17 December 1994 in Thailand, Halong Bay was officially placed on the list of the World Natural Heritage. In 2000, UNESCO recognized it as the World Heritage for the second time for its geographical and geomorphologic values. This confirms the global premier value of Halong Bay.

Wherever you come from, whosoever you are and however old you are, you will certainly experience the same emotion and feeling when admiring this wonder of stone and water. And great experiences will always remain even when you leave the place. The legend of Mother Dragon and Child Dragons sending out pearls to form thousands of stone islands to stop invaders still serve as the soul of this invaluable heritage of the world.

Sung Sot cave ( Amazing cave)
Ascending to the grotto, the way is covered by trees and foliage and consists of great paved stone blocks. Inside, it is partitioned into two chambers; the first one being similar to a wide theatre hall. Many stalactites hang from the high ceiling, with numerous possible forms and shapes. From the wharf, you climb 50 steep stone stairs to the mouth of the grotto, which lies 25m above the sea level. Going down some 10 stone stairs, you reach the mouth of a grotto. The grotto covers some 10,000m2. Inside the grotto there have thousands of stalactites and stalagmites along the 500-meter paved passage.

A narrow passage leads to the second rooms, where a flow of light meets visitors. Light posts line the passage and serve as signposts and ornaments. The lighting system with elegant styles adds more charm to the beauty of the grotto. The chamber is so immense it could contain thousands of people at one time.

At the deepest point of the grotto, a "royal garden" appears with a clear pond and a seemingly fascinating landscape of mountains. Many birds and plants (benjamin figs, cycads and centenary banyan trees) live here. On nice days groups of monkeys might arrive in search of fruit.

Up in the 30-meter roof of the grotto, one can figure out small, soft and even concave spots, which look like patterns in the ceiling of a theater. A huge piece of stone stands up to the ceiling by the grotto’s mouth. This evidences one of the typical karst-style grottoes with high scientific values.

At the side of the entrance, the rock seems to form the shape of a horse with a long sword. Legend has it, that after having defeated the An aggressors, Thanh Dong (Saint Dong) helped the population to chase away evil spirits and demons. After this feat, Saint Dong flew to heaven, leaving a stone horse and sword to continue to keep the demons away.

Thien Cung cave
The way to Thien Cung is a perilous one, covered on both sides by thick forest. After entering a narrow gate, the grotto's 130-meter-long girth opens up.

Getting in we are more astonished in front of the very animated and splendid beauty which is made from stalactite. On the east wall of the grotto, there is a grandiose and imposing picture with characters of tales.

Going in the Thien Cung Grotto, we have a sensation of just watching a unique, meticulous, interesting fine-art museum which is made by nature, get out of the imagine ability and intellect of man.

Legend has it, that beautiful young lady named May (Cloud), caught the eye of the Dragon Prince and he fell in love with her. They were betrothed and their wedding lasted seven days and seven nights in the centre of the grotto.

In honour of the wedding, small dragons flew about through the stalactites and stalagmites, elephants danced together happily; snakes twined themselves around trees and two stone lions danced with their manes flowing in the wind. A large elephant, smartly dressed, waited for the bride and the groom. The genies of the south and north stars also came to attend the banquet, and the atmosphere was definitely animated and lively. All these scenes have been seemingly fossilized in the grotto.

In the centre are four large pillars supporting the "roof of heaven." From the base to the top, many strange images seem to live in the stone: birds, fish, flowers and even scenes of human life. On the north wall of the grotto a group of fairies seem to dance and sing in honour of the wedding. Under the immeasurably high roof, stalactites make a natural stone curtain. Somewhere there is the sound of a drum beating, but it is actually just the noise made by the wind blowing through stone.

Arriving at the last partition of the grotto, a natural gushing stream of water babbles throughout the year, here are three small ponds of clear water. Legend has it, that this was where May bathed her 100 children, bringing them up wisely and happily into adolescence. One path meanders out of the grotto; it was the way May, together with 50 of her children, took to harvest new lands. The 50 remaining children, together with their father, were left to build the native land. Left behind by the mother was the natural stream described above.

Dau Go grotto

Hundreds of stalactites falling down from the roof of the grotto look like a waterfall. The grotto is divided into three main parts. The exterior is a room with a vault full of natural light. Many forms may be seen in the rock formations of the chamber, depending on the imagination of the visitor of course. In the first chamber, in the very middle of the grotto, is a colossal pillar supporting the large vault. On the top of the pillar, there appears to be a monk draped in a long, dark cloak, with his right hand clasping a cane.

Crossing the first chamber, one enters the second chamber through a narrow passage. The light here is mysterious, and new images appear in the stone. It makes us having a fear and be inquisitive. The second chamber is narrow. Here, the stalactites look smaller but more graceful. One feels like going to a pagoda with a monk in meditation so that one steps more gently.

The third chamber of the grotto is widely opened. The third chamber features high stone columns out of which nature has carved images of a large kingdom, of heroes and soldiers holding swords and spears rushing up, of war elephants and horses or lions, etc. All of them suddenly was petrified and remained there for good. At the end of the grotto is a well of clear water. Looking up in the dim light we recognize that surrounded is the image of an ancient citadel and a scuffle of elephants, horses, man with bristly sword and spear. All are making a rush and be petrified suddenly.

The name Driftwood Grotto came from a popular story of the resistance war against the Yuan - Mongolian aggressors. In a decisive battle, Tran Hung Dao was given the order to prepare many ironwood stakes here, to be planted on the riverbed of Bach Dang River. The remaining wooden pieces found in the grotto have given it its present name. And the name Giau Go is associated with the legend that General Tran Hung Dao (1226-1300) hid ironwood stakes in preparation for the Bach Dang battle against the Yuan-Mongolian invaders.

If the Thien Cung Grotto is monumental and modern (in its natural form) then Driftwood Grotto is solemn, but also grandiose. In "Marvels of the World," published in France in 1938, the author called the grotto "Grotte des merveilles" (a site of many marvels). In 1917, Emperor Khai Dinh came to visit the grotto and amazed by the beauty of the place, ordered the erection of an engraved stone stele singing the praises of Halong Bay and the grotto. Today it remains to the right-hand side of the entrance.

Trinh Nu & Trong grotto
Entering Trinh Nu Grotto, one finds in the middle of the grotto a stone statue of a lying-girl with her long hair hanging down who is looking to the sea in a vain hope. Situated opposite to Trinh Nu Grotto, Trong (or Male) Grotto has a stone statue of a boy who turns his face to Trinh Nu Grotto. One still hears his vain scream in tune with the wind blowing into the cliff somewhere.

Legend has it, there once was a fisherman's beautiful daughter, whose family was so poor that it was in the service of the rich administrator of the fishing zone. He forced the family to give him the girl as a concubine. She already had a lover who at that time was on the high seas catching fish to prepare for their wedding. The administrator, angered by her refusal, exiled her to a wild island where she suffered from hunger and exhaustion. On one frightening night, amidst terrible rain and winds, she turned to stone.

It was also the night that her lover knew of her danger, and he rowed his boat in search of her. On the terrible night, the tempest destroyed his boat and he floated to one of the islands. In a lighting flash he saw his mate in the distance, but his calls were driven away by the wind. He used a stone block to hammer down on the mountain cliffs to announce to her he was nearby. He struck until blood flowed from his hands and in his final exhaustion, he turned to stone (Trong Grotto present-day).

Tourists also find Trinh Nu Grotto attractive partly because of its association with a fanciful love legend: “Once upon a time, there lived a boy and a girl who deeply loved each other. However, they were so poor that they could not be able to get married. The boy decided to go offshore fishing with a hope that he could get enough money for his marriage. And the girl painfully waited in vain for her fiancé. She finally took a small boat and rowed to the sea to look for him. So immense is the sea, and so many are the islands, the boy, therefore could not hear her doleful call, though he was just several canals away. Exhausted, the girl lied in a grotto, looking to the sea and got petrified after the last call. The boy got lost in a grotto nearby, shouting to call the girl in vain. The echo of their call through the cliff was so moving. At last, the boy became exhausted and petrified in the grotto - present-day Trong Grotto.” Today whenever passing this place, tourists can still hear his faint call.

Me Cung grotto
It is formed on Lom Bo Island and seen from afar the entrance is like the roof of a house denting the island's side.

After a narrow crack only allowing one person through at a time, many partitions appear. These chambers are somewhat small and narrow, but very refined and with many stalagmites and stalactites bearing beautiful forms.

Threading your way through narrow passages, you find a dim light from afar, which signals the exit of the grotto. On getting out of the grotto, climb up several rugged stone stairs and look down, you see a large round lake surrounded by the mountain. Its water is blue all year round. The lake is home to many kinds of fish, shrimps, octopuses, algae, see weed and coral. Lying adjacent to the lake there is an area of old trees popularly known as an alluring "royal garden".

It is dry and well-ventilated, and features a thick layer of shells forming the foundation of the entrance. Formerly, this layer was 1.2-meter-thick and semi-fossilized. In the course of research, there was also a fossilized animal's skeleton discovered in the interior.

Pushing into the grotto, tourists feel like walking in a palace of a Persian king. Hearing the murmur from out of nowhere, you think that Scheherazade is telling the stories of the Thousand and One Nights for her king.

On the island, there are many ancient trees casting long reflections on the water of Halong bay. They are home to many species of birds and animals (monkeys, chamois and varans).

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